It has been a rough start for a nesting pair of falcons in Oakland. Or rather, one of the brood. This particular nest has two young, and they fledged on Thursday and Friday. Unfortunately, one of them ended up down on a roadway in traffic on Friday evening, right as I arrived to watch them. Of course I took off running, hopped a fence and ran to the road to attempt a rescue.
When I got to it, the fledge was hunkered down in the middle of one of four lanes of traffic. I managed to stop traffic, but not before a woman ran directly over the bird (without any wheels crushing it). In fairness, it is Oakland, and I probably looked like a crazy person because I had already taken off my t-shirt to grab the bird as I tried to stop traffic. Still pretty lame though.
I scooped the little guy (it was originally ID’d as a female, but it seems really small to be female, so I’m calling it a he for now). He had sustained damage on his lowere mandible, but otherwise seemed to be intact. I’m not sure if the damage occured due to a vehicle strike, or if he hit his beak on his way down to the roadway. The damage was severe enough that it warranted an exam by a professional. These new fledges are not great fliers, but they are even worse at landings. After the initial shock wore off, he was very fiesty and not happy about being put into a box – which is a good sign. A friend who is part of the falcon fledge watch took him to a wildlife rehab facility for assessment. His status is still questionable, but we are hoping that he can be released again into the wild. It could go any way at this point, but I am hopeful.
What is interesting are the circumstances of his crash landing. He had taken off on a practice flight, and it appeared that the adults actually were chasing him as if he were an intruder. It happened very fast, but initially we thought we were seeing the adults chase off an intruder, then we quickly realized it was the youngster. Each time he tried to land on a high perch, an adult swooped on him and he took back to the air until he finally tired out and went down on the road.
Maybe his parents were disciplining him like the Japanese parents who left their son in the woods recently. A bit overkill, ya think – tone it down a bit maybe? It was certainly an unusual event, and our assessment is purely conjecture. There is speculation that this pair of falcons is very young, so perhaps they just haven’t figured out the whole parenting thing just yet.
Another friend of mine saw and got a picture at another falcon nest recently of one of the adults actually helping a new fledge land!! The adult flew beside and slightly behind the younster, and actually assisted it up to a perch! Perhaps the parents at this nest were trying to help, but their efforts actually made the situation worse. Hard to say at this point.
Here are a few pics of the remaining family from the past few days.
In addition to being a smaller bird, the tiercel (term for a male falcon) happens to have much lighter plumage on his chest and belly, which helps when trying to tell them apart if they aren’t next to each other to know by size (female is bigger). The female has some strong barring on her entire underside and a bit of a buffy tone, whereas the male has a lot of white and the barring only extends partially down under his wings, not across the whole belly and chest.
The injured bird is incredibly beautiful, as I was walking back with him in my hands, he was looking up at me with giant, shining, dark, dark brown eyes. Pure Wild looking up at me. I’ll never forget those eyes. Hopefully he gets to take to the sky again soon!
The red foxes have returned to the den I found last year, and they have three kits this year!
I have spent some time out photographing them at night, but because of the poor light the photos are rough. But still adorable!! It’s been so fun to watch these kits over the last week. I’m guessing they are about six weeks, maybe seven.
More to come soon …
After a day of what could be the last rain of the season, I decided to motivate myself for a much needed attitude adjustment. I was grumpy, and pretty unmotivated. I knew if I went out for a wander/hike, things might shift. I figured “future Zach” might really appreciate “past Zach” more if “current Zach” got off the couch.
It was just before sunset, and the clouds were starting to break up, yielding some blue sky and a beautiful setting sun sometimes shining from behind the clouds. The puffy clouds that were left after the rain were now highlighted in beautiful pinks, purples, and oranges. The air was calm and there was a divine serene quality to the light and the moment.
I wasn’t far into my wander when I heard a lot of raven sounds. It’s not unusal to see them in this area, but usually they are moving around, soaring, and don’t typically hang around one particular area for too long. And usually they are in pairs here. As I turned a bend, I started to see them. Some were flying, some were perched or hopping around a grove of eucalyptus trees. There were at least four or five ravens, and I stopped to watch and listen. At first I thought perhaps it was a young family of newly fledged ravens, just playing on the hillside and in the grove of trees. They didn’t necesarily seem focused on anything in particular, but I decided to circle around to the other side of the eucs to get a better look.
I’ve written before that in the northern part of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, I have never seen definitive bobcat sign nor a live bobcat in the three years that I have been going there (ironic, given its name!!). My explanation was that due to the open grassland and minimal cover in this area (most of it is grazed by cattle for fire suppression), coyotes are the dominate predator because they can adapt to the terrain better. Between the lack of cover and proliferation of coyotes, it is not ideal bobcat terrain. Not only that, many people walk their dogs in this area, and again, coyotes are better equipped to deal with that scenario. Bobcats like to be near edges of vegetation, so they can easily “disappear” to escape threats. Further south in Wildcat Canyon, there are more chapparal and riparian zones with lots of cover, and sure enough I’ve found (and seen) bobcats and their sign there.
That all changed a few months ago. I was out after dark in the northern part of Wildcat and somehow in the dim light I spotted a single cat track in a patch of mud on a lightly used cow trail in an area under eucalytus trees and close to more dense cover (other trees, poison oak, blackberry, coyote brush, etc).
Then, in the middle of April, I was on a run passing through the same general area and I spotted fairly fresh bobcat scat. It was classic bobcat scat – sometimes coyote scat can be a similar size and they can be confused, but not this one. It definitely tasted like bobcat scat (joke).
The evidence was mounting that a bobcat had moved into the area.
Back to tonight …
As I came around the other side of the euc trees I saw two ravens side-by-side on a branch, not very high up (probably 20 feet). They were very vocal and seemed to be focused on something on the ground. I paused, then slowly approached through the tall grass. As I got about 1/4 of the distance to them, what pops out from behind some tall grass? A bobcat!!
I froze. It froze. It thought I hadn’t seen it, so it slowly backed behind the grass, crouched then slowly turned around and started to go the other way. I quickly backtracked to the trail and returned in the direction I had come in hopes that I would see it try to circle back around me. As I did this, I kept track of what the ravens were doing – they had watched the whole encounter happen and now I realized they had absolutely been following this cat. As I paused in the trail after about 20 yards to listen and gauge my next move, the ravens flew over the area directly in front of me and circled a few times. They were tracking the bobcat and giving away its location! Sure enough, in about 10 seconds it appeared at the edge of the trail only 15 feet from me. We gazed at each other, and it slowly crossed the trail, pausing at the other side to study me. Slowly it moved in a circle around me and then passed, stopping to watch me at a number of times. OF COURSE I didn’t have my good camera rig with me, but, I was able to really enjoy a few moments of being close to this amazing animal – and snap a bad pic with my cell phone.
I love when “bird language” gives clues like this about what is happening on a landscape. That is part of the fun of being out there and staying aware – and no matter how many times it happens to me, it always seems like magic. So fun.
Right after that encounter, I saw a California newt on the trail – likely returning from a vernal pond where it bred, to seek refuge in the leaf litter under some trees during the warm and dry months of summer. I’m always thrilled to see these little salamanders.
Another 50 yards up the trail, as I went off-trail and into some thick cover, I heard and then saw an agitated Cooper’s hawk fly into the eucs where I was headed. Then I heard two great-horned owls respond, irritated about the irritated Cooper’s hawk! The Coop flew off, so I proceeded on. A loud rustling sound quickly caught my attention and I watched as a turkey flew up into some high boughs of a eucalyptus tree to roost for the night. As I walked under to get a better look, I heard the Coop again. I backtracked down the trail to where I had been before, and there in a dead tree was one of the great-horned owls, sitting very calmly with a backdrop of Richmond, Mt Tam, and a twilight sky. And right by it on the other side of the tree was the Cooper’s hawk, protesting loudly. Occasionally it would fly off and then return. This scene continued for about five minutes, and finally both birds departed. I am convinced there is a Cooper’s hawk nest adjacent to the area where the great-horned owl nest is. As I started to walk away, I heard a few juvenile red-tailed hawk calls in the background – hopefully I’ll see them fledged and playing in the area soon.
“Current Zach” is very pleased that “past Zach” got off the couch. Thank you, thank you, to this Land – this Land that has given me so much. The fact that we have such amazing parks so close to an urban area is a testament to the conservation efforts and hard work of so many people here – and I am grateful. Also very exciting that a bobcat has moved into the area, I hope to get to see it more!
This evening I debated about doing my almost daily walk/wander/hike in the hills. I was feeling kind of lazy. It was a warm and clear day, and despite being thankful for all the rain of late, I was happy for some sun after almost 10 consecutive days of rain. The light was sublime out there, and I was content to just stay at home as it illuminated my house with golden yellow light warmed by a slight orange hue. I started doing some mundane tasks, and I randomly started watching a classic movie in the background, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Great flick. It was right at the part of the movie when he enters the map chamber and the sun shines through the amulet on top of the staff illuminating the location of the holy grail.
Soon I noticed that the sun was setting outside, and the rays were coming through my window reminding me it was soon time to go walk if that was to be.
And thankfully so.
After a bit, I walked outside to watch the sunset from my backyard in the warm, still, March air. As I looked West, towards Mount Tam, I realized that the sun was setting almost perfectly behind the peak. But just to the left.
Then I thought, wow – I wonder if the sun will set exactly behind the peak on the vernal equinox, March 21st (four days from now)? Suddenly, I remembered the petroglyphs on the chlorite schist rock just 20 feet from me in my yard (that I blogged about over two years ago) …
Could they be related?
My mind continued on a virtual wander, as the sun illuminated the sky behind the Sacred Mountain across the Bay from me. What if the other petroglyphs- similar to what are in my yard, but just to the south in Canyon Trail Park – lined up with another celestial event? Perhaps the summer solstice? And what if I searched to the north, along a north/south line from my current position – would I find more rocks with similar markings that aligned that position with Mt Tam and the winter solstice? Do they exist, or did they (it’s totally possible that they have already been destroyed or covered over by development – so proof could be hard to find)?
Maybe watching Indiana Jones had me fantasizing too much. But, what if?
As I looked at the rock with the petroglyphs, I realized that with some level of imagination the rocks actually looked like the silhouette of Mt Tam! Maybe that part is a stretch of the imagination, yes. But, the equinox alignment, at a minimum, seems too obvious to discount as coincidence. But why this rock? Why here, where there are higher elevation points that would seem to my modern mind more “appropriate” as a place for something like this? Perhaps the topology or plant cover at the time they were carved might have yielded more obvious clues about that.
Regardless, I think Dr. Jones would be proud.
As I watched the light fading behind the Mountain, standing by the Rock, I looked up. Above the Rock that has a half-moon carved into it, and over the juniper tree beneath which it lies – there was the half-moon shining through. Magical!
Tracking is not just about animal track and sign. Tracking is a 24/7 part of our existence, something we all do to one degree or another in almost every aspect of our lives – but each of us with different levels of consciousness around it. We can track animals, water, stars, moods, stock markets, traffic patterns – everything, really. It is about awareness. Practicing awareness. Taking a moment to observe, instead of always “doing.”
To finish the evening, I stopped at a restaurant called Jupiter and sat down in the courtyard by the fire. As I looked up into the sky in that courtyard, above the hanging sculpture of Jupiter, there shined a bright thing in the sky … the actual planet Jupiter!! Aha!!! Good stuff.
I asked the server if she realized that Jupiter was shining above their Jupiter sculpture above us – she did not, and really didn’t seem all that impressed to know. She was tracking other things I guess.
The adventure and questions go on, hopefully more to come on this …
the other week during a wander with my friend and mentor Jim Sullivan (see his website and tracking class offerings here) – an amazing tracker, naturalist, and all-around brilliant fella – and other great trackers like Ginger; we had a suburb opportunity to see some canine species’ track diversity laid out before us. it’s not often you get to see four canine species’ tracks together in decent substrate. identifying the differences between them can often be very challenging, so any chance to see any of their trails, also in varying substrates, is incredibly illuminating. to get to see all of them in one day avails an incredible study opportunity.
coyote vs red fox vs gray fox vs domestic dog – it is a study that is always ongoing for me, especially with partial tracks and trails. these species don’t always overlap geographically, and even if they do, often their seasonal movement patterns don’t overlap in such a way that you can see their tracks together, especially in one day. sometimes it is very obvious the difference, but sometimes it can be confusing given the right circumstances.
red fox (R) and western coyote track (L) / track plates copyright Mark Elbrock’s book
the red fox tracks we found were on the small end of the spectrum – there was some debate about id due to the size. it was at the small end of the red fox size spectrum (and at the large end of the spectrum for gray fox), especially upon initial (eye-ball) inspection. but further analysis (and healthy, civil debate among accomplished trackers) left us concluding red fox. context, the full trail, and multiple tracks often help in track id. actually it’s often about context. having the chance to see full trails, and the way the tracks vary within each substrate, really help in honing the ability to discern one species from the other in the future when there is only a partial track or trail.
drawing and journaling is a great way to solidify the memory of ideas and patterns in the ol’ brain.
Cowboy boots ‘n mountain buttes
Pick-up trucks ‘n luckless ducks
Hungry hawks ‘n too-thin socks
Saw eagle with coyote, like I was on peyote
So comes to a close, my trip to the Klamath Basin
Ha!! Ah jeez. Not my best work there.
Regardless, some of the best action on my trip was saved for last. As I left the area, I stopped off in an spot that was reported to have large numbers of ferruginous hawks, a species that I had seen scant sign of in the Klamath Basin just to the north.
Initially I wasn’t seeing any raptors at all as I drove along some of the roads in the snowy flat lands that consisted primarily of ag fields or open, high desert ecosystems. Thee wild areas featured primarily rabbit brush and desert sage, with the occasional juniper tree. There were jack rabbit and coyote tracks all over the place.
I was shocked that there didn’t seem to be ANY raptors around an area that seemed like it would be full of prey. The reason? They were all in one spot. Literally. When I finally found the raptor swarm, there must have been over 100 birds of prey in the 360 degree view around me – and two coyotes! They were in a number of adjacent ag fields that hadn’t been plowed. The mice/vole/ground squirrels populations there must be outrageous. Everyone was there for lunch!
There was a line of telephone poles along the country road, and on almost every other pole there was at least one raptor – but sometimes as many as five on one pole! And sometimes multiple species! I had never seen anything like this.
There was an irrigation wheel line with eight segments on it, and I counted 19 raptors on it (including bald eagles, ferruginous hawks, rough-legged hawks, and red-tails)! In the immediate area were a lot of red-tailed hawks mostly perched on something, and all over the ground in the fields there were ferruginous hawks everywhere (probably 50+ of that species alone)!! There were also a good number of Northern harriers, bald eagles, rough-legged hawks, and at least one golden eagle. Plus the two coyotes. It was unbelievable.
What an incredible finale to my trip. It often happens that way – as if the Spirits of the Land are trying to get me to stay. I will certainly be back there soon.
Thank you Klamath Basin!
Links to more information on Klamath Basin:
Winter Wings Festival – being held this Feb 11-14th 2016!
Once again, sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time. Two days in a row seems pretty good, eh? Though for all I know while I took pictures of this coyote and golden eagle together, there was a mountain lion dancing with a wolf just down the road.
I had been watching a golden eagle that was perched on a low sign along the snow-covered road in Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge for some time. There is something special about a close encounter with a golden eagle, and my breath leaves me every time I have an experience such as this. They are HUGE animals. Golden eagles can take down small deer! In other parts of the world where the eagles are slightly bigger and the wolves are slightly smaller, they kill wolves. This is an animal that is at the top of the food chain. An apex predator.
A beautiful one as well.
After observing the eagle for some time, it sliced (pooped) and took off to start hunting in the treeless wetlands around the wildlife refuge. Those wings!!!! Incredible to see an animal this size take flight.
After it took off, a quick movement caught my eye on the other side of the reeds along the snowy dirt road on which I was positioned. The roads are raised on levies to allow navigation through the wetlands. Most of the water is frozen though, and what I saw was a coyote moving away from me parallel to the road. Once my eyes locked onto it, it sensed it and increased its speed, changing from a trot to a full-on bounding gait as if I were in pursuit! I am willing to bet there are hunters out there that take shots at them.
Eventually it stopped running, being sure to look back at me as if to say “I see you and don’t think for a second I am not watching you, two-legged.” It started to move at a fast trot along and through the reeds on both sides of the road, often crossing it. It appeared to be hunting, possibly trying to flush prey or looking to scavenge a meal. Or, it was following another coyote trail and marking its territory. There are coyote trails all over the place out there. The prolific amount of prey there in the Klamath Basin attracts more than flying predators.
Eventually the coyote disappeared, so I started driving down the snow-covered road again. In just a hundred yards or so, I stopped because I saw the golden eagle again, hunting about 20 feet off the ground over the wetlands, almost like a Northern harrier. I slowed to a stop to watch the hunt, and not long after, the eagle landed on another short road sign just ahead of me.
Suddenly, I caught sight of the coyote again, briefly, and then it disappeared into the reeds on the other side of the eagle – then re-appeared right next to the eagle!! I couldn’t believe it. The eagle did not seem the least bit surprised to see the coyote, even as it passed directly by it not five feet away. Nor did the coyote seemed surprised or concerned – despite them being well within striking distance of each other!!!!! The coyote paused near the eagle, and the eagle sliced (almost on top of the coyote), then the canine came out into the roadway, shot me a glance, smelled a fresh coyote scat (confirmed once I drove up there after the encounter), then disappeared back into the tule reeds by the eagle.
As I approached in my vehicle, I passed the eagle and we had a moment of looking directly at each other. It is an experience that is intense and humbling. After I passed, the eagle took off, and I was able to
take a look at the scat and tracks. The coyote continued to hunt along
both sides of the road for a few hundred yards until finally it
continued south over a large berm.
As mentioned in my last blog post, while I watched an otter consume a duck, a northern harrier came gliding down the canal and dropped down on a small bird in the vegetation on the side of the canal just 10 feet from the otter!
The whole time I’m shooting this scene the otter is just eating (and occasionally napping) away just 10 feet to the right. It was just ridiculous the amount of activity happening at this particular location.
One thing I noted while driving was that small birds were flying very close in front of my vehicle. I actually struck one of them, sadly. I’m wondering if their reaction time is slowed by the cold weather and if that gives an advantage to predators (who are primarily using gravity to drop down on their prey). Interesting to hear if anyone else has experience with this.
There is a lot of wildlife in the Klamath Basin, and not all of it has feathers.
Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time, and this was certainly one of those instances. With the incredibly low temperatures that were present for the last few days, there was almost no open water around – it was all frozen. One canal had some exposed water around an outlet pipe, with ice starting to encroach but enough open water to attract a small flock of water fowl.
I was out of my jeep watching a small group of pintails, green-winged teals, mallards and grebes in the small bit of open water, suddenly they “gently” flushed – they didn’t fly, but they walked out of the water. I didn’t flush them, but I couldn’t figure out what did. I turned for a moment to grab something in my jeep, when I looked back I saw what appeared to be a mallard duck struggling to get out of the water and onto the ice. Then I realized that it was actually the duck’s rear end that was out of the water! As my mind struggled to put the vision before me together, the duck slipped under the surface of the water. A few seconds later, a huge river otter popped up out of the water onto the ice with the (now dead) duck in its mouth!
I watched it consume the duck for almost an hour, occasionally it would retreat under water (sometimes with its meal!) when other people drove by or came too close (which unfortunately some did come too close).
There were times that the otter appeared to nod off after so much eating, but he wasn’t about to stop – he just needed some dinner naps. I’ve been there.
Otters are such a joy to watch, their behavior is always fascinating. Such beautiful, fun creatures. I’m sure the ducks felt differently.
During the time I was watching the otter, a northern harrier floated down the canal in the air and made a successful strike on a small bird – just 10 feet from the otter! I’ll put the series of pictures from that in the next blog …
The show wasn’t over though. After that a prairie falcon came in and made an unsuccessful strike on a small duck in the canal behind me! This place was a hot spot!
The other water fowl seemed to realize the otter was satiated, as they came back into close proximity of the otter as it was eating and even afterwards while he was still in the area. After the otter finished, another harrier moved in to scavenge the duck as the sun set.
I imagine it wasn’t long after I left that the coyotes I heard howling nearby moved in for the rest of the scraps. Their tracks were all over the Basin area, and I saw four of them during my two days there, moving at a rapid pace through the preserves as they hunted.
A ranger that I told about the encounter had been at the same location earlier and saw a bobcat. It was likely no coincidence that this spot was so active – the open water attracted the water fowl, which in turn attracted the predators.
Such a fun day. I stayed out past sunset watching everything unfold, and the temperature dropped quickly. I was happy to get back to town that night for a warm bed. Unfortunately I had some camera malfunction issues, so my shots aren’t as good as I’d hoped (auto-focus issues) – I learned the hard way to test new equipment more thoroughly before being out in the field! That is minor though – WHAT A DAY!!! It’s not often that you see this kind of show!! Very grateful to have the opportunity to be up there and that there are people protecting it. Check out KS Wild, one of the many groups helping the cause.
The Klamath Basin area is home to multiple National Wildlife Refuges (six of them!), and is a major stop-off for migrating water fowl along the Pacific Flyway during the autumn and spring. This flat high desert area (around 4000 feet elevation) straddles the border of Oregon and California and is just east of the Cascade mountain range. It is also host to a lot of agriculture, using waters diverted from the Klamath River to irrigate fields. The Basin sits in view of several volcanoes that are part of the Cascade range, and the area is of volcanic origins. It is truly a magical landscape. Recently it has become even more exciting as there are now two small wolf packs that call the Cascades just west of the Basin home (one of which is the famous OR-7 wolf, who at one point traveled to California and became the first confirmed wolf in CA since the 1930’s)!
The wetlands themselves are estimated to be only 25% of what they once were, due to appropriation of land and water to agriculture. Many interests share this region, and it is often the subject of debate on how to best share the resources among all them, including Wildlife/Plants, Indigenous People, agriculture, hunters, birders, fishing folks, etc.
During the winter months, there is a very high population of raptors that migrate here to wait out the winter due to the availability of prey (and it should be noted that agriculture fields that are dormant often provide a home to many rodents, thereby attracting more raptors). Here during the winter can be found the highest density population of bald eagles in the continental U.S. outside of Alaska! I have been there previously and seen around 50 eagles in one 360 degree view! Not only that, there are a lot of northern migrants such as rough-legged hawks and ferruginous hawks, species not often seen this far west or south. Those in addition to golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, assorted falcons, many owls and more can be seen here.
I braved some cold temperatures, especially the first day – it was near 0 deg F. A ranger I spoke to said that in the morning he had seen a northern pintail (type of duck) that came out of some reeds and couldn’t get its wings to extend – they had frozen to its body during the night! That’s cold (it eventually did free its wings). Needless to say there weren’t many people out there besides me, but I was able to see some amazing sites and sights (which I’ll highlight over the next few blog posts).
A few of the birds during the trip:
My final picture of the first day is a great summary of the area. The sun had set over a half hour before I took this picture – I saw these birds sitting in a tree as I was driving out. My old jeep was not doing a great job of keeping the cold out, but despite my numb fingers and toes I got out to snap this shot. As you can see, the area does not have many trees, so they are coveted by many different birds. Because of the density of prey and lack of trees, often I see multiple species sharing a tree or telephone pole – a necessary truce. The large forms in the tree are a bald eagle on the left, and a red-tailed hawk on the right! They are buddies! At least for the night (usually I see red-tails chasing and harassing bald eagles). Sprinkled among mostly the tree on the left are many red-winged blackbirds as well.
Some great resources to learn more about the area:
Winter Wings Festival – http://winterwingsfest.org/
This February weekend (this year it is Feb 11-14 2016) focuses on raptors in the Klamath Basin area and attracts many people to the area. Tours and guides are available, as well as many other events. Definitely worthwhile!!!
Lava Beds National Monument is nearby, and Mount Shasta is not far to the south. The whole area is really magical, any time of year.
More to come …